By Jason Mudry
Being nice and neighbourly are stereotypical traits of Canadians.
However, if Canadians lived up to these stereotypes, on Saturday, we’d all be taking turns mowing lawns, shovelling winter snowdrifts, baking goodies, and looking out for each other.
Let’s face it, that’s not always the case.
Unfortunately, many Canadians may not even know the people who live across the hall, or the other side of the fence. In our busy existences, few of us find the time to learn about our neighbours, or live up to the characteristic kindness that is supposed to define our nation.
Fortunately, for the past two decades, my family shared our south fence with the Mujezinovic family, who were about as nice, neighbourly and Canadian as you can get.
At one point, they even offered to remove the fence between our yards to give my children their yard to play in as well.
As my family came to know them over the years, we would learn that building walls between people was not in the Mujezinovic’s nature.
Our families moved in beside each other around the year 2000. We were both buying our first houses in Red Deer, the only difference between us being that the Mujezinovic’s were actually fairly new to Canada.
Just a few years earlier, in 1994, Remza, Fikret, and their six-year-old daughter Samra had fled the war-ravaged city of Foca, in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Unfortunately, authoritarian regimes were fighting to maintain geographical and political control. Despite UN and Canadian peacekeeping intervention, the violence continued to escalate.
Sadly, years later, the rest of the world has come to finally see the horrible crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing that had occurred in this area of Eastern Europe.
Subsequently, to escape these atrocities, the Mujezinovics left their house, along with most of what they owned in Foca. Soon after, the Canadian government selected Red Deer as their new place of residence.
Like many new Canadians, the Mujezinovics first years were challenging. Both were educated professionals, but initially forced to take entry-level jobs below their skill set.
Though Fikret was previously a teacher with two university degrees, he worked to re-enter the education profession by starting as a teaching assistant.
Eventually, he attained his teaching equivalency certification, and in 1999, he became a teacher at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School.
Mujezinovic taught math and came to be known as Mr. M by his students. At the end of the semester, he would let students place notes on the ceiling outlining their lessons.
It was a fun and subtle way of making sure these young people were reflecting on their learnings, and also leaving his class looking upwards to their future.
Over the span of his two-decade career sharing his passion for mathematics in the classroom at Lindsay Thurber, Mr. M prepared hundreds of young people for further post-secondary education and future jobs/careers.
His wife Remza joined Catholic Social Services in 1996, and also spend her entire professional career in Red Deer with this organization.
Similar to Fikret, she had to work to gain professional equivalencies, but in 2001, she attained her licence as a registered social worker.
Eventually, she rose through various roles to become the program manager for immigration and settlement services in Red Deer.
Over her approximately 24 years with Catholic Social Services, Remza counselled, assisted and guided hundreds of new Canadians as they worked to build a new life in central Alberta.
By the end of her career, she had hired and helped train virtually every staff in the Red Deer division she managed.
Her work has left behind a legacy of dedicated individuals to continue to ensure new Canadians coming to central Alberta have adequate support and guidance.
Regrettably, society will sometimes question the value of new Canadians, and miss the incredible contributions they make. It’s also easy to forget that at some point in our family history, virtually all of us were new to this land.
Candidly, given the challenges and adversity the Mujezinovics faced, it would have been easy for them to be bitter and unkind, or as some would say “un-Canadian.”
Instead, Remza and Fikret Mujezinovic unassumingly and selflessly chose to use their talents in Canada to break down walls and barriers for others. Essentially, they chose to build and support more Canadians.
In June, they both retired and announced they were leaving Red Deer. Fortunately, this time, their relocation is by personal choice, as they are moving to Calgary to be closer to their daughter Samra, her husband Edis, and their two granddaughters Ena and Elma.
Ironically, the Canada Day long weekend will be their last days in Red Deer. So as we celebrate the birth of our nation this week, perhaps their story can be a reminder to all Canadians of the incredible diversity that builds our country, and that despite life’s challenges, being nice and neighbourly are characteristics we should all strive for.
Jason Mudry and his family are longtime Red Deer residents who were fortunate neighbours to the Mujezinovic family for two decades.